September 4 – 15, 2001
By Indradyumna Swami
The day after our successful but tense festival in Brzeziny, I woke up early and took a walk alone in a nearby forest. The peace and quiet were in direct contrast to the life I had been living for the past five months on our festival tour. The strain of constant opposition from the Church and Polish government officials, direct attacks on our festivals and the physical exertion required to push on for so many months, had left me exhausted. Of course, it is a most welcome exhaustion, as every gram of my energy has been used in the service of guru and Gauranga. But for the first time on the tour I looked at my pocket calendar to see how many days were left. Seeing that only one week remained, my mind drifted momentarily to Vrndavana and the many holy places there that I longed to see—I hope even more so with the purification that comes from preaching. I wish I were more advanced and could stay on the front lines indefinitely as Srila Prabhupada did when he was with us. Srila Prabhupada traveled incessantly during the eleven years he was with us, circling the earth twelve times, preaching the glories of the Lord. But he also spent a “lifetime in preparation,” as his biography states, a good portion of that in Vrndavana where he chanted the holy names, wrote his Srimad-Bhagavatam purports, and imbibed the mood of our previous acaryas.
I have also seen that the preaching success of Godbrothers like Sivarama Maharaja and Bhakti Bhrnga Govinda Swami has been in direct proportion to the time they spend in bhajana, hearing and chanting the glories of the Lord. I considered that going to Vrndavana was the natural step to take after the tour was over, not simply to recuperate my strength but to purify my heart and deepen my realizations of the Lord’s glories for future preaching.
A sudden cold breeze, followed by a number of falling leaves, further indicated that our festival tour would soon be coming to a close. The cold air woke me from my daydream in the forest. I hurried back to our base to plan the last remaining festivals. When I arrived, devotees had already finished breakfast, and Nandini and Radha Sakhi Vrnda approached me to report about possible towns where we could hold our final programs. As we sat down to discuss it, however, it soon became apparent that the struggles we’d had for months would continue to the end.
Nandini said, “Guru Maharaja, we’re not having any success in arranging festivals. Everywhere we go, mayors and their councils have been forewarned not to cooperate with us. In many cases they are fearful to even meet us. Obviously something is going on behind the scenes. After the last festival in Brzeziny, there appears to be a well-organized campaign to ensure that we don’t have any more festivals in this region.”
It was clear that for the time being we had to change our strategy. We convened our festival council and spent the entire day discussing how to continue our preaching for the remaining seven days. Finally we decided to go to the nearest town, Piotrkow Trybunalski, approach the owner of the hypermarche there, and ask if we could hold a festival in his parking lot. The festival we had held in Belchatow’s mall parking lot had been one of our most successful on the autumn tour. But the Piotrkow Trybunalski town council was one of those that had most recently refused us permission to put on a festival. In fact, the council wouldn’t even consider giving us permission to hold a simple harinama in the town. There was even an article in the town newspaper in which the local priest was quoted as saying that if anyone in Piotrkow Trybunalski attended one of our festivals in the region and happened to touch Raju, our padayatra ox, he or she would immediately go to hell.
Our strategy for trying to do a festival at the Piotrkow Trybunalski hypermarche was that it is private property and not under the jurisdiction of the council. The only problem was that we wouldn’t be able to advertise by distributing invitations on harinama. But we decided that if the owner of the complex agreed to the festival, we would send devotees out individually on the streets to hand out invitations. It seemed unlikely that the council would forbid that.
As soon as we approached the owner of the hypermarche, he agreed to the proposal. He said he had heard how successful our festival had been in Belchatow, and then—with a smile on his face—related how it had simultaneously increased business in the shopping complex. He said we should make it a three-day event, and that we could distribute invitations at all the mall entrances. I was elated, remembering how hard it had been to get permission to distribute books at shopping malls during the years I did book distribution in France.
Knowing that it was going to be the last festival of our tour, devotees worked around the clock, distributing invitations at the hypermarche, on the city streets, at apartment blocks, and at busy intersections. The authorities quickly got wind of the festival, and numerous threats were made to the hypermarche owner, but he didn’t back down.
As we prepared for the festival, I noticed that all the devotees seemed as exhausted as I felt, but we all continued to work hard, wanting to finish the tour on a high note. In five days we distributed close to fifty thousand invitations, and on the morning of the festival we drove to the hypermarche parking lot. As the day wore on, however, our hopes for a successful event were dampened by rain. Just two hours before we were to begin, storm clouds appeared in the sky, and just as the festival opened rain poured forth in torrents. Nevertheless, although it showered off and on throughout the festival, several hundred people came and we considered the first day to be relatively successful. Little did we know that it would be the last festival day of the year.
When we arrived back at our base, several devotees who had stayed to clean the kitchen ran to inform us about the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia. The viciousness of the attacks and the extent of the destruction stunned the devotees. Along with the rest of the world, we watched the reports on CNN in the hotel lounge that night, and the next morning I gave an impromptu class about how we should understand the tragedy.
I explained that devotees are not callous in the face of such suffering, and that our condolences go out to the dead and injured and their families. I also predicted that the attack on the heart of America would have many ramifications, including a protracted war on terrorism and a likely recession. We should not be shocked by such events. Devotees are familiar with Krsna’s wisdom in Bhagavad-gita—that this material world is first and foremost duhkhalayam aSaSvatam, a temporary place full of misery. For a devotee, the material world is always in a state of tragedy, but he remains equipoised.
yam hi na vyathayanty ete purusam purusarsabha
sama-duhkha-sukham dhiram so ’mrtatvaya kalpate
O best among men (Arjuna), the person who is not disturbed by happiness and distress and is steady in both is certainly eligible for liberation.
I told the devotees that although they were not forbidden to follow the events, which would surely dominate the news for weeks or months to come, we should not become preoccupied with them. Our main meditation, as always, should be our devotional service. I especially requested them not to allow the news to become the only talk of the tour during the remaining few days. I didn’t want to see them huddling in small groups discussing terrorism and watching the news. The terrorist attack was a catastrophe, and it would surely bring major changes to the world, but Lord Caitanya’s sankirtana movement is no less significant and much more auspicious. Whereas catastrophes take lives in great numbers, the chanting of the holy names saves lives in unlimited numbers. It is the panacea for all problems.
I concluded by saying that we were fortunate to have yet another chance to share this chanting with people during the remaining festival days when Nandini came in announced that to show sympathy for the people of America, the President of Poland had declared the next two days official days of mourning in Poland. All public events were canceled. The room fell silent as the devotees realized that our five-month tour had just come to an unceremonious end.
Three days later, after cleaning and packing our entire five tons of festival paraphernalia, we had a final festival only for devotees to honor their services during the past months. After some emotional farewells, everyone left in buses to return to their respective homes and temples. As I got into my van, my driver, Radhe Syama dasa, looked at me and said, “Guru Maharaja, you’ve been so busy that you haven’t told me where you’re going! In which direction should I start driving?”
I paused, then replied, “I suppose you can begin heading east toward Vrndavana.”
Laughing, he said, “All right, I guess that means first of all heading north toward Warsaw.”
As we drove off, I was caught between the pain of realizing that the tour was over and the ecstasy of going to the holy dhama. Trying to focus on Vrndavana I closed my eyes and thought of what I would say to Srila Prabhupada when I got there. Each year upon arriving in Vrndavana, I go first to Srila Prabhupada’s Samadhi and report the results of my year’s preaching efforts. I decided I would simply repeat the words he used when he learned that the land at Juhu Beach in Mumbai was won after a great struggle: “It was a good fight.”
Srila Prabhupada, it was a good fight, and for the greater part we were victorious. In five months, literally hundreds of thousands of people attended our festivals. All of them heard the holy name, many took books, and many more enjoyed prasadam. By the causeless mercy of Lord Caitanya, even our staunch opponents benefited by “unfavorably” uttering Lord Krsna’s holy names! We offer all the results to your lotus feet and we pray for similar service in years to come. The recent tragic events in America will soon give rise to preaching opportunities, and as devotees of the Lord we must be prepared to meet the great challenge that lies ahead in this regard. Now more than ever people are aware of the temporary and miserable nature of this world. It is up to us, your followers, Srila Prabhupada, to enlighten them about the actual solutions to such problems.
. . . by [the devotees] broadcasting the holy name and fame of the Supreme Lord, the polluted atmosphere of the world will change, and as a result of propagating transcendental literatures like Srimad-Bhagavatam, people will become sane in their transactions.” (Bhag. 1.5.11, purport)